Tree Work

In October we did some tree work with our good mates, Solihull commercial tree surgeons Roy and Will.  We were landscaping some old and run-down woodland that needed basically tearing down. We managed to leave some of the better old trees to incorporate in the new landscaped garden, but the majority had to be cleared.

You can see the type of machinery we used in the photo, from our fleet of garden machines that we find so useful for everything from ditch clearing to supporting trees while we chop them down.  Tree removal guys are awesome with such machines and they had the site cleared in a couple of days. Now that’s out of the way, we can get on with landscaping the entire plot, which is a big job for us.

The area amounts to around four and half acres, of which about half was formerly scrappy woodland. People think of trees as sacred sometimes, but there’s a limit to what can be done with poor species that sprung up of its own accord and really has no merit. There’s always something that can be salvaged from such woodland, but most of it has to be torn down to make way for some serious landscaping.

On this site there had been little in the way of woodland management and the trees weren’t suitable for coppicing  Solihull is a beautiful place and our client figured her plot deserved better treatment than a ropey old wood. So we undertook the landscape job and planned to plant new trees to replace the old and make features of them.

Some of the species we used were huge willows, which are pretty fast growing, along with trees that will mature to statuesque specimens like oak and ash. Fruit trees were also part of the plan, with old apple varieties chosen for their flavour and to preserve these old types for generations to come. Alongside the apples were planted plum, cherry and almond trees, which all have beautiful blossom in the spring and will produce abundant fruit within a few years.

The whole thing has been a wonderful project to work on.  It has turned out even better than expected, with a natural feel to the garden which extends the house into the countryside surrounding it. Where there was a poorly fenced paddock and neglected woodland, now stands a carefully planned yet informal garden. It leads the wanderer gently from the formal patio area to the countryside belong, so it’s difficult to determine where the garden ends and the uncultivated country begins. That’s what we wanted to achieve and we’re all very proud of our efforts.

The client is happy too, which of course is what really matters, especially as she’s paying our wages!

Planning your Garden

A Landscape gardener takes care of the hard landscaping in a garden. Many people think they do everything, including laying turf and planting bulbs, etc.  It’s true that some landscapers also undertake these tasks, but strictly speaking landscape gardening involves laying paths, patios, walls, fences, rock gardens, planters and anything else that goes to make up the skeleton of the garden.

We normally work to a plan put together by the homeowner or a professional garden designer.  Often when we do small jobs the householder has a good idea of exactly what he wants so we simply interpret his instructions and construct his dream.  It usually involves a path, whether straight or meandering, and some features to add height, as well as an area for sitting or relaxing. That’s the most basic type of landscaping and to be honest many people can undertake it themselves with a little time and effort.

What we really enjoy are the bigger projects, especially when they’ve been designed by a professional who understands perspectives and the limits of a landscaper!  They can imagine exactly how it will turn out, whereas an enthusiastic amateur often has limited vision.  It takes a certain amount of artistic ability to imagine what will happen when a landscape gardener has been let loose on a bare plot of land or an unkempt garden.

That’s what’s so rewarding though.  Given a clear plan we can build anything with the variety of materials available these days.  Most gardens aren’t huge, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a little vision and a lot of grunt work.

The end result is normally – and hopefully – a delight to behold and we’ve had so many delighted owners. That’s where the rewards of the business are most evident. It’s great to look at a newly constructed garden and appreciate the beauty.  It’s even better to return after a year when the plot has been planted up and everything is coming into its own.

We love our job, but the only downside can be the odd client who thinks they know what they want, but changes their mind every 5 minutes!

I guess every tradesman gets these customers to deal with, but it makes our wonderful job just that little bit challenging.

When we quote for a job, we take into account everything, but when an owner has drawn up his own plans we simply have to add 10% because the chances are he will change his mind somewhere along the line.  He’ll decide a pathway needs to be further over, or the wall shouldn’t be where we’ve just built foundations but a foot further down.  These things can be challenging, but overall we’d never change our profession because it has wonderful upsides and we love to be out in the fresh air – well most of the year anyway.

Landscape Gardeners – our first year

Marty and I formed a proper partnership as Horsham Landscape Gardeners and started our career together landscaping some beautiful gardens in Horsham.

It proved easy to get our first few jobs, then just as we thought we were on a roll, work dried up and we learned that to be successful businessmen we had to get out and market our  business. We learned many lessons in that first year and came through with some battle scars and having fallen out a few times, but ultimately our relationship survived and became stronger.

Our first job was for a friend of a friend. They always say that recommendations are the best way to get work and it’s a fair point, though it does add pressure to make sure the finished job is high quality. The particular job was to build wooden decking outside the customer’s back door and across the back of his house. It was quite a large structure and took us a while to complete. The customer was delighted and recommended our landscapers to a neighbour.

Well that was easy and we fell into the trap of thinking that all we had to do was a good job and our loyal clients would find more customers for us. Sadly it didn’t turn out that way and within 3 months we’d run out of work.  We recognise the problem when we had a couple of weeks’ work left, so held an emergency war meeting and decided on a course of action.

Marketing wasn’t in our repertoire so we had to do some research and call in some help.  We worked out a plan because we had to do something quickly if we weren’t to run out of work – and money!

We had a three-pronged attack; firstly we’d get out to networking events and aim for two a week each. We figured that meeting lots of other business owners would help us forge relationships and should result in new business.

Secondly we had 5,000 leaflets printed and arranged for them to be delivered to the wealthier areas of the town.

Thirdly we sought out local magazines and inserted ads, thinking that folk would rather employee a local company to do their landscaping.

The thing with marketing is that it doesn’t work overnight – and it doesn’t work immediately.  We found that the networking gave the best results and were lucky to get a job almost immediately. It wasn’t massive but enough to keep us busy for another couple of weeks.

Then we had a better idea and redirected our networking efforts to meeting companies we could actually work with, rather than just touting for work with all and sundry. This approach was far more effective and we built relationships with garden designers, as well as larger builders who would want new properties landscaped.  We continued in this vein throughout our first year and the relationships we cultivated bore fruit. It wasn’t all one way though as we helped those companies gain more business too.

So the biggest lesson we learned in our first year was how to keep work coming in.  Our success meant we ended Year One with a healthy balance sheet and with a pipeline of landscaping work. In fact we were so successful that we needed to take on employees – which was our next big lesson.



Where it all Started

Marty and I went to school together. We both loved the countryside and spent every spare moment running around the downs and climbing trees, riding our bikes down bumpy tracks and scraping our knees sliding down chalk pits.

I suppose it was a free childhood and one that probably wouldn’t be possible today. We had a great time and certainly kept fit. We weren’t indoors watching TV or playing games on a computer.

We went through junior school, then secondary and when it came time to decide on careers we both wanted to do something outdoors. We couldn’t bear the thought of spending life behind a desk so we wracked our brains, wrote lists and flicked through the Yellow Pages looking for inspiration.

In the end it was Marty’s grandad who suggested learning gardening, but not just digging and planting, we should study and discover the science behind the grunt work. So off we both went to technical college and learned about landscape gardening. I don’t think it was called that but the course covered everything we’d need to get started on our chosen path.

After college we went separate ways and Marty joined a local gardener whilst I worked for a tree surgeon for a while. We both learned a great deal before moving on to other companies where we complemented our knowledge by learning about other facets of landscaping. While I joined a trout farm, my friend joined forces with a partner and started a fencing business.

Marty remained a fencer for some years, while I switched jobs a couple of times, working for local builders and discovering how to build such things as brick walls and stone patios. I also learned woodworking skills as one of my employers built wooden decking and pergolas, as well as garden buildings.

It was all great grounding and those 15 years after school taught us a lot about a variety of landscaping skills.

At the age of 33 Marty and I had a long heart-to-heart over a few beers. We worked out a plan to become rich, or at least enhance our incomes. We’d work together and set up our own landscape gardening company. We’d employ staff, build a big business and be the best landscapers in the area.

So that’s what we did.